Central to the decorations in people’s houses is a model nativity scene. Families may involve different members in their creation and they often decorate them with flowers and fruit. Traditional figures from the Christmas story are integral parts, while some people like to add their own extras such as houses or different animals.
Christmas trees are a huge part of a Costa Rican Christmas. People generally use cypress trees rather than pine trees. Artificial trees are growing in popularity, while some people may not buy one but instead decorate a palm tree in their garden.
Trees are in fact used for great symbolic purposes in the country. One of the most important trees is outside the Children’s Hospital in San José. It is used to symbolise gratitude and hope for the children and the people of the city. This tradition was started by CNFL, a power company, as far back as the 1960s.
La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the country’s largest urban park and the ‘lungs of San José’, hosts a large Christmas tree each year that is installed by Coca-Cola.
Misa de Gallo
‘Mass of the Rooster’ or Midnight Mass is a common tradition observed in Costa Rica. People dress up and head out to churches around the country. Typically, it was around a two-hour service and started at midnight, but more recent adaptations have seen it start slightly earlier and run for less than an hour.
The main Christmas meal is traditionally eaten after Misa de Gallo. It commonly includes chicken or pork tamales wrapped in plantain leaves. Pastries and desserts are then eaten, while eggnog and rum punch are the typically favoured festive drinks of Costa Ricans.
El Niño Dios
Particularly prominent among the Catholic population, gifts are brought and left under the tree by El Niño Dios, the baby Jesus. Santa Clause, or Colacho as they call him, is also common around Christmas time in Costa Rica.
A tradition not exclusive to Christmas for sure, but the 25th December sees many people grab their towel and head down to one of the many stunning beaches the country has to offer. A great way to relax and take in a festive season all about time with those you love, it may be totally foreign to some people, but you can be sure you’ll have plenty of jovial company.
Festival de la Luz
San José is transformed in December each year into a lighted wonderland. A huge parade then takes place and over a thousand musicians and performers participate. People travel from around the globe to be a part of the event. Costumes, props and themes take inspiration from around the world.
A parade of colourful floats takes place in San José on December 27th. Flamboyantly costumed participants and dancers entertain the crowds. Bands of varying genres can be heard playing here.
A traditional sport during the Costa Rican holiday season, bullfighting in the country differs from what is seen in other countries. It is actually illegal to hurt the bull in Costa Rica, so the events are actually about running from the bull and avoiding its advances.
Fiestas de Zapote
Bringing together a variety of fairs, parades, bars and activities together, Fiestas de Zapote has been running for over fifty years. The main event is the bullfighting at the bullring in the suburb of Zapote, San José. The festival lasts a week and runs between Christmas and New Year.
Jaco Christmas Festival
Family-friendly and a great celebration of brass bands. Music and dancing create a merry atmosphere celebrated by the whole town. Christmas songs and even a guest appearance or two have been known to grace this jovial occasion.
Tope Nacional de Caballos
Held annually on 26th December, the Tope is a national horse parade and celebrates Costa Rica’s agricultural industry. The best horses from around the country feature here and talented horse riders show off their skills. Hand-painted oxcarts are also on view.
Often considered little more than an entrance and exit for travellers, San José comes into its own around Christmas time.
It is the place to feel the culture and season come alive and hosts many of the country’s most famous festivals at this time of year. If an authentic and truly Costa Rican Christmas is what you are wanting, then the capital is a great place to be.
Though lacking in some of the more incredible scenery that you will see in other parts of the country, San José gifts you the chance to see some of the country’s more symbolic, meaningful and thought-provoking Christmas trees, the dazzling Festival de la Luz and Carnaval Nacional as well as the Fiestas de Zapote.
Though not prime turtle-spotting season, Tortuguero is a real Christmas treat. Narrow winding canals flanked by thriving greenery help you lose yourself in an inconceivable world.
Only accessible by boat or plane, even just travelling to Tortuguero is a thrilling experience. After driving to within 20 miles, a boat is necessary to complete the journey. They are regularly available, however, and once there you feel the benefits. You are now withdrawn from any hustle and bustle and able to immerse yourself wholeheartedly in the beauty of the place.
Spot caiman, iguanas and monkeys from the vantage point of a canoe or boat as you drift peacefully across the still waters. Not the Christmas you’re used to. Not a Christmas you’ll forget.
North Atlantic St Lawrence whales will be arriving along the coast through the month of December. Once you have finished cruising the inland canals, head out from Tortuguero on a sight-seeing trip and observe some of the largest and most majestic mammals on the planet.
The perfect place to combine beach time with park exploration. Manuel Antonio is known for its rich and abundant wildlife, and it’s saying something to stand out for that in Costa Rica!
The forest stretches right down to the beachfront where you will be greeted by clean, white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters that lap gently over your feet. Join the locals in a typical Costa Rican festive season visit to the beach. There are few beaches in the world that can rival what you will find here!
Take a guided tour with a professional who can help you spot the more subtle wildlife, or go for a snorkel in some of the world’s finest waters and marvel at colourful marine life. For the more adventurous visitor, canopy tours are available for young and old for a Christmas time you won’t ever want to forget.
The dry, tropical climate of Guanacaste attracts many visitors each year. Amply served by transport links and blessed with countless attractions, it sits in the north-western part of the country bordering Nicaragua.
With attractions across land and water, mountains and volcanoes, there is no danger of running out of things to do. Over 400 miles of coastline, animal rehab centres and volcanic national parks lead the way in attracting Guanacaste’s visitors. It is home to many all-inclusive resorts, which not only makes it popular with tourists and families, but makes it a hassle-free place to spend your Christmas getaway.
The region has two main commercial areas, Liberia and Santa Cruz, with a further six tourism development centres surrounding the area. Guanacaste is an area for tourists with surf lessons and a rapidly changing landscape. Hassle-free, sun-drenched days await a Christmas visitor to the region.
The Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica is a wild region with vast rainforests and exceptional wildlife. At least half of all species living in Costa Rica can be found here!
Jutting out into the Pacific ocean, the Osa Peninsula offers fabulous hiking trails, exhilarating boat trips and unforgettable wildlife viewing. From kayaking to surfing, abseiling to yoga, activities to exhaust and enthral, or relax and regenerate are plentiful and available to all.
The region is developed in a way to support tourism, but maintains a typically Costa Rican feel and hosts many opportunities for the more adventurous explorer to delve off the beaten path and take a more rural journey.
Star attractions include a boat ride to the uninhabited Isla de Caño, a world-class snorkelling and diving destination with immense richness in its waters. Dives to see dolphins and reef sharks here can be booked. Isla de Caño is a truly once in a lifetime Christmas experience!
Famed for its volcano and often explored from the popular tourist town of La Fortuna, Arenal is the place for a picture-perfect Christmas.
The active volcano was once believed dormant having shown no activity for hundreds of years. La Fortuna’s name is a reference to its fertile lands, and it is now abundant in tourist attractions.
In the local area, many geothermal hot springs are available and are a real attraction for tourists. Imagine Christmas spent soaking in the relaxing and regenerating naturally heated waters! Once you are done relaxing, take in the natural beauty of the area, snap a picture of Arenal volcano or head out explore waterfalls, rivers or Lake Arenal for some adrenaline-boosting watersports.